Foundation degree is in disarray says CIHE

November 7, 2003

The government's foundation degree policy is in trouble, with universities eyeing up the qualifications as a way of getting "bums on seats", the Council for Industry and Higher Education has warned, writes Tony Tysome.

The CIHE, which held a colloquium for European and US business leaders and academics in London last week to discuss how skills shortages could be addressed, was concerned that neither higher nor further education institutions or funding agencies had taken "ownership" of vocational training at sub-degree level.

There was no coordinated planning, leading to a clash of agendas between skills and higher education, the CIHE said.

Research by the CIHE has shown that sub-degree programmes such as HNDs, foundation degrees and NVQs at level 4 are highly valued by employers.

In a report on the findings, The Value of Higher Education , the CIHE says employers look to higher-education courses, including those carried out in further education colleges, to "address the UK's skills shortage for people at supervisory and technical level".

But Richard Brown, CIHE chief executive, said: "At the moment, we have a situation in England where no one owns the FE/HE interface. Meanwhile, HE institutions want to expand their own foundation degrees to capture people in FE colleges and pull them through on to first-degree courses.

"This produces a divergence of interests between employers, who value people with advanced vocational qualifications and enter the workplace to address the skills gap, and the HE agenda, which is to get bums on seats on degree courses."

Mr Brown said another problem was that not enough courses addressed the most acute skills shortages in industry.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England might need to take on a stronger planning role, similar to that of the Learning and Skills Council, to resolve this issue, he said.

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